A week after holding Miami to a franchise-record low in rushing yards, the Cardinals only attempted six carries. The Vikings' defenders say they weren't surprised. Plus, get 40 gameday notes that help put the performances – good, bad and surprising – into perspective.
There wasn't any big surprise what the Arizona Cardinals
had in mind when they came to the Metrodome Sunday. For a team that was struggling to run the ball against some of the more accommodating run defenses in the league, coming up against the NFL's top-rated defense had to be more than a little bit intimidating.
So what did the Cardinals do? They abandoned the run completely. A week ago, the Vikings set a franchise record by allowing the Miami Dolphins
4 yards rushing. To be accurate, the Dolphins gained more yards on Monday (seven) than they did on Sunday (minus-three) – thanks to a decision from the Elias Sports Bureau to rule a play that had been called a 7-yard rushing loss by Joey Harrington
In Sunday's 31-26 win over the Arizona Cardinals, the Vikings set yet another team record. This time they set another record for opponent futility.
In the game, the Cardinals ran the ball just six times, breaking a record as the fewest carries by any Vikings opponent. The old mark was nine, set by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Nov. 15, 1987 game won by the Vikings 23-17. The number was actually five rushes, but a screen pass attempt by Matt Leinart
was ruled a backward lateral and an aborted play, which was officially called a running play.
For many of the Vikings defenders, this recent pattern of opponents abandoning the run is getting pretty commonplace and expected.
"When you've got the wall up front we have with (Pat and Kevin Williams
), teams figure they have to spread us out to win," said safety Dwight Smith
, who had two interceptions in the game. It's going to be tough for any team to come here, throw 50 times and expect to win."
Safety Darren Sharper
agreed, saying that the Vikings have come to expect that teams are going to pass much more than they run in trying to take out the Vikings.
"This is a league of repetition and replication," Sharper said. "We know coming in that people are going to try to pass on us because they don't believe they can run effectively. We've given up a lot of yards, but the key is not giving up points. One thing teams don't want to be is one-dimensional. If we can make teams plan on doing that, it's to our advantage."
The Cardinals scored 14 of their 31 points via 99-yard returns for touchdowns, which officially meant the defense was on the line for giving up 17 points against a pass-happy and desperate Arizona offense.
Smith said the onus for bringing the Vikings back into playoff contention was the defense and, if future opponents want to take the same approach, the Vikings will be ready and willing to take on the same challenge every week.
"If they want to turn the game into seven-on-seven, those of us on the back side (of the defense) are going to love it," Smith said. "Nobody is going to try to run on those big boys up front, so it's up to us to make sure we make them pay when they pass."
When asked if he had ever seen a game in which a team ran the ball just five times, Smith said the last few weeks have been an eye-opener on several fronts.
"No, I've never seen that," Smith said. "But then I never saw a team run for four yards in a game before last week."
This time, the Vikings got the win.
Chester Taylor had a fumble in the fourth quarter that was returned 99 yards for a touchdown that was costly in two ways. First, it gave the Cardinals new life in a game that looked to be all but over. Second, the fumble kept him from gaining the 1 yard he needed for a touchdown. He finished the game with 27 carries for 136 yards, leaving him 1 yard short of 1,000 for the season.
Coming into the game, Brad Johnson and Matt Leinart were the two lowest rated passers in the NFC. While Leinart's passer rating went up slightly – by completing 31 of 51 passes for 405 yards with one TD and two interceptions, his rating for the day was 76.0 – Johnson saw his numbers jump. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 271 yards and three touchdowns – for a passer rating of 108.9.
The Vikings defense saw about as much of Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin as they cared to see – Fitzgerald caught 11 passes for 172 yards while Boldin caught nine for 140 yards and a touchdown.
The Cardinals ran 58 offensive plays – 52 of them pass attempts. That works out to 89.7 percent pass plays, not including the Leinart lateral that was ruled a run.
The Vikings allowed a pair of 99-yard touchdowns on the day – neither of which came with the Vikings defense on the field. Besides Adrian Wilson's 99-yard fumble return, the Cardinals opened the game with a 99-yard kickoff return.
Marcus Robinson came into Sunday's game with 14 receptions. He had 50 percent of that total in today's game alone – leading the team with seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown.
Jermaine Wiggins had a big day in his own right, catching six passes for 52 yards and tying Chester Taylor for second place on the team with 37 receptions.
Eight different Vikings caught passes, but for the second time in three weeks, one of them wasn't Troy Williamson.
The Vikings have struggled with third-down conversions all season – converting at just a 33-percent clip. But on Sunday the team made good on seven of 15 attempts (47 percent) and, on two of those failures, picked up a first down on fourth-down plays.
Both teams finished the game with 412 total yards of offense.
The Cardinals' Scott Player is fortunate that he was the holder for the team or he wouldn't have been given credit for playing in the game. Why? Because the Cardinals never punted.
The Vikings scored touchdowns on four of five trips into the red zone, building off what was an NFL-worst touchdown percentage in the money area.
Antoine Winfield had 12 solo tackles Sunday to lead the team. Dwight Smith and Cedric Griffin tied for second with six each.
The four starting defensive linemen for the Vikings – Kenechi Udeze, Kevin and Pat Williams and Darrion Scott – combined for one tackle (by Udeze).
Chester Taylor topped 20 carries early in the fourth quarter – the ninth time this year that he has had 20 or more rushes. That surpassed the old team record held by Chuck Foreman.
Jermaine Wiggins' six receptions on the day gave him 177 for his Vikings career. That tied him with Stu Voigt for the second-most receptions in franchise history for a Vikings tight end. The record is held by longtime Viking Steve Jordan.
When the Vikings were forced to punt in the closing seconds of the third quarter, it marked the first drive in which the team hadn't crossed midfield. On the play, however, Heath Farwell recovered a fumble and gave the Vikings the ball inside Arizona territory.
The Vikings had a penalty on Kevin Williams negated in a rare double-foul situation. On a key third-and-2 play, Williams was called for a neutral zone infraction that should have given the Cardinals a first down. But a crackback block on tight end Adam Bergen took precedence over the Williams infraction. The penalty moved the Cardinals back 15 yards and, after failing to get a first down, kicker Neil Rackers hooked a field goal attempt wide left to come away without points.
Denny Green challenged a play in the third quarter and lost the challenge – the sixth time in seven chances that Green has lost a challenge this season.
Ryan Longwell's 40-yard field goal gave the Vikings 24 points on offense midway through the third quarter – the most offensive points in a game this season for the Vikings. It also marked the offense scoring on three straight drives.
The Marcus Robinson touchdown in the third quarter was the just the third time the Vikings offense had scored on consecutive drives this season – the others being vs. the Redskins and Packers. It was the first time the Vikings scored touchdowns on back-to-back drives.
Chester Taylor topped 100 yards early in the third quarter to set a franchise record for most 100-yard rushing games by a player in his first year with the Vikings. It broke the record of three set by Chuck Foreman during his rookie season.
Taylor dominated the first-half stats for the Vikings, rushing 15 times for 87 yards. Brad Johnson completed 13 of 20 passes for 132 yards and one TD. Marcus Robinson, who came into the game with just 14 catches, led the team with four catches for 39 yards – including his team leading fourth touchdown grab – in the first half.
The Cardinals ran 25 plays in the first half – 21 passes and just four rushes. Leinart completed 15 of 21 passes for 193 yards. Boldin and Fitzgerald each caught four passes – Boldin for 62 yards and Fitzgerald for 58. James ran just three times for 14 yards.
The Vikings had just two penalties in the first half.
In the first half on both of their scoring drives, the Vikings converted a fourth down.
Coming into game, the Vikings had converted 10 of 15 fourth-down attempts – the best percentage in the league.
The Vikings dominated time of possession in the first half, holding the ball for 18:34 of the game's first 30 minutes. As a result, the Vikings ran 39 plays to just 25 for the Cardinals.
The Vikings got into Cardinals territory on all of their first-half drives.
In the first quarter, the Cardinals picked up six first downs and never had to face a third-down situation. The first time the Cardinals faced a third down was in the second minute of the second quarter, when pressure by Ray Edwards forced an incompletion from the Vikings 3-yard line to force a Neil Rackers field goal.
The Vikings dominated time of possession in the first quarter, holding the ball for 10:17. But the Cardinals outgained the Vikings 106-100. Of those yards, the Cardinals had 94 passing and 12 rushing, while the Vikings had 72 yards rushing and 28 yards passing.
Individually, Chester Taylor had 10 carries for 66 yards to lead the Vikings in the first quarter. Brad Johnson completed three of five passes for 36 yards and Travis Taylor was the leading receiver with one catch for 17 yards. For Arizona, Leinart completed six of seven passes for 94 yards and Anquan Boldin was the leading receiver with three catches for 55 yards. In the running game, the Cards ran just twice in the quarter – both by James – for 12 yards.
Mike Rosenthal was replaced by rookie Ryan Cook at right tackle late in the first quarter without an apparent injury to Rosenthal. Rosethal and Cook continued to rotate series throughout the game, and Rosenthal said that was the plan going into the game.
Chester Taylor was the star of the Vikings' opening drive. Of the 70 yards the Vikings gained on the nine-play drive, Taylor carried on seven of the plays, gaining 53 yards, including runs of 28, 11 and 8 yards and capped the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth down.
The Vikings' touchdown on their opening drive was the ninth time in 11 games that they have scored on their first drive of a game – six field goals and three touchdowns.
The fans may have set a record for earliest booing during a home game following a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by J.J. Arrington – a score that came just 14 seconds into the game.
Several fans showed up for Sunday's games wearing crowns, ranging from the Burger King giveaway headware to the jewel-encrusted variety. It was a reference to Denny Green's tirade following the Cardinals' improbable loss to the Bears, in which he told the assembled media that if they thought the Bears were that good they should "just crown their ass" and forget the rest of the season.
As expected, both Artis Hicks and Marcus Johnson were among the gameday inactives Sunday. They were replaced in the starting lineup by Jason Whittle and Mike Rosenthal.
Griffin started in place of Fred Smoot at cornerback Sunday, but, with the number of base three-receiver sets the Cardinals ran Sunday, both came into the game expecting to see significant playing time.
For a second straight week, Artose Pinner was inactive. He hasn't been active since committing a pair of special teams penalties in the loss to the Packers.
The Vikings' captains for Sunday's game were Steve Hutchinson, Antoine Winfield and Greg Blue.